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Articles from 2003 In September


Column: Corn growers raise insurance issues

So it was interesting to read the take of farmers from another region during the Sept. 24 hearing on federal crop insurance by the House Agriculture Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities Risk Management.

Ron Litterer, a corn, soybean and hog producer from Greene, Iowa, said that while the Agriculture Risk Protection Act of 2000 was a major step forward, the National Corn Growers Association believes Congress still needs to do more work on federal crop insurance.

"I do not need to belabor the point that the past few years have been very challenging for corn growers," he said. "Many producers have faced depressed markets followed by a period of prolonged drought – conditions that have jeopardized their financial viability and even forced their exit from agriculture."

The transition to the new farm bill has also required considerable adjustments by producers and their lending institutions as the timing of program payments has impacted cash flows, he said.

Litterer, chairman of the NCGA’s Public Policy Action Team, said higher levels of premium subsidies have not only resulted in significant increases in participation and the percentage of acres covered, but it has "facilitated a dramatic shift toward higher levels of coverage."

Still, areas that need improvement remain.

"Producers have a much more reliable farm bill in terms of protection against depressed commodity prices," he said. "But we also have to recognize that many crop insurance participants who experience shallow, but significant crop losses in back to back years can find themselves in no man’s land."

He said that if farmers lose 25 percent of their crop, for example, they most likely cannot file a loss claim nor would they qualify under the current crop disaster program. "One year with this kind of loss should be sustainable, but two or three years can seriously impact net farm income and erode a producers’ equity."

Multiyear losses of the type experienced by growers north and south in recent years can also affect a grower’s average production history or APH and consequently the value of indemnity payments.

"We urge the committee and RMA to consider innovative alternatives beyond artificial adjustments to T yields and the APH," said Litterer. "We fear that this kind of approach would invite ill-advised planting decisions, and unintended consequences of higher premiums for producers."

Among those: the development of supplemental insurance that would cover a producer’s deductible when two years of consecutive losses exceed a predetermined percentage of average production.

Other areas include reforming prevented planting provisions, quality loss adjustments more accurately tied to real market value, coverage of center- pivot dryland corners that allows same row direction while keeping separate units for irrigated and dryland acres, and buy-up coverage ratings that better reflect trend yield growth and determine policy guarantees.

That list sound familiar?

e-mail:flaws@primediabusiness.com

USDA to hold small farmer conference

Speakers will include William Lyons, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture; John Ikerd, professor emeritus of Agricultural Economics, University of Missouri; Vernon Parker, assistant secretary of agriculture for Civil Rights; and Ross Davidson, Risk Management Agency administrator.

The conference will be for individuals and public and private organizations that work with small and limited resource farmers and ranchers. Attendees will learn how to identify, develop and promote successful risk management strategies to help agricultural producers remain economically viable in a rapidly changing agricultural environment.

Registration is $300. For an agenda and complete registration and conference information go to http://www.rma.usda.gov or call Isabelle Howes, conference coordinator at (202) 314-4713.

The meeting will be held at the Hyatt Regency Islandia Hotel, 1441 Quivira Road, San Diego.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com

USDA: $42 million for fruits, nuts

"This purchase will provide recipients of federal food programs with popular, nutritious food products," said Veneman.

USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service purchases a variety of high quality food products every year for distribution by USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service to the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Summer Food Service Program, the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, the Nutrition Program for the Elderly, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program and the Emergency Food Assistance Program.

The department also makes emergency purchases of commodities for distribution to victims of natural disasters.

Today’s announcement will bring the total purchases of dried fruits and tree nuts in this fiscal year (beginning Oct. 1, 2002) to $95.1 million. This is the second largest total annual purchase of these products in several years. In fiscal year 2001, with special supplemental funding from Congress, USDA purchased $118 million worth of dried fruits and tree nuts.

More information on USDA programs is available at www.usda.gov.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com

USDA releases more grassland funds

“Grasslands play an important role in environmental quality by providing biodiversity of plant and animal populations,” said Veneman. “These funds will help landowners protect grasslands to maintain viable ranching operations.”

The new funding included $1.3 million for Texas, $500,000 for Oklahoma and $300,000 for New Mexico. Previously, Texas had received $5.76 million; Oklahoma, $1.92 million; and New Mexico, $1.35 million.

The Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, in cooperation with the Forest Service, administer this voluntary program to help landowners and operators restore and protect grassland, rangeland, pastureland, shrubland and certain other lands and provides assistance for rehabilitating grasslands.

Authorized in the 2002 farm bill, these funds, combined with the $37.2 million released earlier this year, will allow USDA to enroll additional acreage in the program in fiscal 2003.

Landowners submitted more than 13,000 applications representing requests for more than $1.7 billion on approximately 9.5 million acres in the fiscal year, ending today.

Applications were rated using state specific evaluation criteria developed with input from the State Technical Committee. State Technical Committees advise USDA at the state level on implementation of conservation programs in the 2002 farm bill.

Committee membership includes representatives of federal, state and local government agencies; tribes; nongovernmental organizations; conservation districts; businesses; agricultural producers; and individuals interested in natural resource conservation with expertise in soil, water, wetland and wildlife management.

Additional information on GRP is at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/grp or from your local USDA service center, listed in the telephone book under U.S. Department of Agriculture, or on the Web at http://offices.usda.gov.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com

Measuring soil compaction getting easier

Compacted soil also increases water runoff and wind erosion.

Agricultural Engineer Randy L. Raper of the ARS National Soil Dynamics Laboratory in Auburn, Ala., has led the development of technology — in cooperation with Auburn University — that uses one sensor to measure soil strength at all depths in the top 18 inches of soil. Raper's invention is known as OMIS (for On-the-fly Mechanical Impedance Sensor).

OMIS isn't the first device developed to measure soil compaction.

Scientists have developed and tested several others, but those only measured soil at a few depths. Often this isn't sufficient, particularly in the Southeast, where compaction varies throughout each field and may be caused by a thin hardpan. Hardpan is a dense layer of soil that restricts root growth and the movement of moisture, air and beneficial organisms through the soil. So farmers need to check compaction at various soil depths, not just the few that other devices measure.

Raper's invention consists of a sensor attached to the front of a shank. As the shank is pulled by a tractor through the field, it is moved up and down like a needle on a sewing machine. As the tractor moves forward, the sensor is cycled up and down to measure the soil strength.

Farmers can use Global Positioning System technology to create soil compaction maps and adjust their tillage depths. OMIS could also be customized to measure other properties, such as electrical conductivity and the amount of moisture in the soil.

Raper is continuing to improve the technology for field use and hopes the new invention will be on the market in a few years. A patent application has been filed, and ARS is looking for a licensee to commercialize the device.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

Technology future of rural areas?

“Simply put, rural America is different from the rest of the country,” Henderson told his fellow university and Extension agricultural economists attending the 2003 Southern Region Outlook Conference in Atlanta.

While the economic recovery is generally slow and steady in much of the nation, recovery of the rural economy is a mixed bag, says Henderson. Rural America went into this recession a lot sooner than metro areas, and because of that, job growth has turned positive in rural areas before it has in metro areas. On the other hand, rural manufacturing factories have taken a beating.

“In this jobless recovery, rural communities are actually enjoying some job gains,” he says. “After falling more sharply during the recession, rural jobs have rebounded a bit faster that metro job gains, posting positive job growth at the beginning of 2003. The leading pace of rural job gains was also prevalent in the 1991 jobless recovery.”

While rural job gains have been paced by stronger activity in service-producing firms, rural manufacturers face the brunt of the recession, with available jobs in the goods-producing sector falling by 7 percent in the last year.

This highlights the challenges rural America faces in a global economy, Henderson says. “Building competitive advantages on low-cost land and labor will not work in a global economy where foreign countries have cheaper land and labor.”

“Rural America is becoming a service-based economy, and that industry is making gains while the goods producing industry is falling. This declining agriculture and factory base means rural America needs a new economic engine that will be built on new technological innovations,” he says. “If rural America is going to compete, it is going to have to develop a new, competitive advantage.”

In 2002, almost 45 percent of rural factory mass layoffs were due to plant closures, far more than in metro areas. “These jobs are not coming back. And agriculture, the other cornerstone of our economy, is also suffering. The two industries have one thing in common; they compete with the world for low-cost land and low-cost labor. With globalization, can we compete on these two things anymore?”

The answer to Henderson’s question may be no. Production costs are increasingly cheaper in foreign countries. In addition, less than 10 percent of rural counties in the United States depend on farming for more than 20 percent of their earnings, and only a handful of those counties are in the South.

Henderson sees value-added, or product-based agriculture, as the key to future growth in the U.S. agricultural industry.

“U.S. agricultural exports have not recovered from the Asian financial crisis, but the impact has fallen primarily on bulk commodity production. Value-added exports continue to rise,” he says. “If U.S. agriculture is going to compete in a global economy, competitiveness may rest on using technology to produce value-added agricultural products. Technology is the answer, as it always has been.”

For example, some corn growers are turning their commodity into bio-based plastics, while other producers are growing pharmaceutical crops. “Farmers are growing plastic in corn fields, and they’re making clothes, upholstery and diapers from rural America’s corn crop,” he says.

“And for every $1 it takes to produce a man-made drug in the lab, it takes only 14 cents to produce that same pharmaceutical using farm products.”

On a broader scale Henderson says the nation’s economic recovery, while slow and steady, doesn’t necessarily equate to job recovery.

Overall, economic activity is rising, spending is firming among individuals, businesses and governments, but the labor markets remain weak, which is why we don’t feel like we are in a recovery, Henderson says.

Despite economic growth, unemployment is still rising, and much of the nation is in a jobless recovery. Unemployment levels are low by historical standards and recessions, but they are still rising and are still quite high.

The reason for this phenomenon, Henderson says, is a surge in productivity since the recession began. “We are producing more with less, which was also the case following the 1991 recession,” he says. “This recovery has been driven primarily by strong growth in the U.S. productivity, which surged in 2002 to support stronger economic activity. While productivity gains have edged back a bit, they clearly remain well above the strong gains posted at the end of the 1990s expansion.”

One major difference between the two recessions, he says, is the economic recovery is weaker this time around. “Because the recent recession really wasn’t that severe, the recovery hasn’t been that strong. We’re growing, we’re just not growing as fast as we were prior to the recession.”

“Consumer spending held the country together during the recession. Now, corporate profits need to rise enough to spur business investments in physical assets and structures,” he says. “We’re beginning to see businesses that are finally confident enough in a recovery to spend some of their money.”

e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com

Corn hybrid seed treatment set

This combination of the seed-applied insecticide and DeKalb's proven root strength can get corn off to a healthy, vigorous start and provide potential for a strong stand and high yields at the end of the season, according to company representatives.

"Poncho's broad-spectrum insect control will do a nice job of complementing DeKalb and Asgrow's elite genetics and technology," says Kyle Maple, U.S. corn marketing manager for Monsanto. "Put simply, Poncho is generally regarded as one of the most complete seed-applied insecticides for corn."

Poncho 250 controls seed and seedling damage from cutworm, wireworm, white grubs, seed corn maggot, flea beetle, chinch bug and other pests. DeKalb and Asgrow will offer Poncho 250 on all single and stacked-trait YieldGard® Rootworm hybrids and on select hybrids in geographic areas where growers prefer early-season control of secondary insects.

"The addition of Poncho 250, combined with Monsanto's YieldGard Rootworm technology, will allow growers to purchase the latest genetics from DeKalb and Asgrow, the best available control of corn rootworm and broad spectrum secondary insect protection," Maple says.

Along with the insecticide-treated hybrids, DeKalb and Asgrow will offer 33 new single- and stacked-trait corn hybrids for the 2004 selling season. Traits available will include YieldGard Corn Borer, YieldGard Corn Rootworm and Roundup Ready.

According to Maple, these new hybrids will offer improved agronomic characteristics, higher yield potential, improved drydown and excellent standability.

DeKalb and Asgrow will also offer select hybrids treated with Poncho 1250 insecticide for effective management of corn rootworm on YieldGard Rootworm refuge acres. Select hybrids will also be available with Poncho 1250 for use in areas where billbug control is needed.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com

Timber tax courses planned

Debbie Gaddis, forestry tax specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, will teach the six-hour sessions for Webster, Forrest, Lamar, Yalobusha, Jackson, Jasper, Smith, Newton and Adams counties. Foresters and landowners from other counties are invited to attend the most convenient location.

“Many forest landowners do not know the special tax provisions that relate to forestry and therefore pay more taxes than are necessary,” Gaddis says. “Learning about state and federal rules before making harvest and reforestation decisions and then applying them correctly is the most effective way to recover reforestation costs.”

The course will address timber sales and other topics. Gaddis says landowners can make sure their timber sale can be treated as a capital gain by understanding the rules and selling timber in the prescribed fashion. The first course starts Oct. 18 in Eupora, Miss. Anyone interested can contact their county MSU Extension office for the dates, locations and times of the courses near them.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com

EPA approves label for Stalwart Xtra

The company introduced Stalwart C Herbicide, a straight metolachlor product, earlier this year. The new herbicides give growers and agricultural chemical distributors a value-oriented option when purchasing metolachlor products.

Stalwart Xtra contains 2.4 pounds of metolachlor and 3.1 pounds of atrazine per gallon. It delivers season-long pre-emergence and early postemergence control of most annual grasses and broadleaf weeds in field corn.

Offering great flexibility, Stalwart Xtra can be applied before or after planting. The convenient 5.5-pound flowable formulation makes it ideal for tank mixing with other herbicides as well as fluid fertilizers. Stalwart Xtra is available in 2 x 2.5-gallon cases, 260-gallon mini bulk containers and bulk. A complete product label can be viewed at www.sipcamagrousa.com.

Sipcam Agro USA is a basic producer and marketer of crop protection products. The company utilizes the latest technologies and efficiencies to serve a broad range of distributors and growers nationwide. For more information about the Stalwart Herbicide products or the complete line of Sipcam Agro products, call 800-295-0733 or visit the company’s website at www.sipcamagrousa.com.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com